an unspoken universal language; even in Rome

What are the signs of a top restaurant and I am not just talking about the ones with hats and stars? I’m talking about the restaurants that you walk past that you have never eaten in before but you can sense the electric atmosphere and you can see people are really enjoying their food. These are the restaurants that are packed with people and there’s usually a lot of noise and more often a queue just to get a seat, especially when it’s a cafe and there’s a queue at 9am on a Sunday. Flat White Cafe on Jersey Road Woollahra, Sydney is like this. Or when you walk past a Chinese restaurant and you see that everyone is actually Chinese, that’s usually a good sign too.

I was in Rome last year and my man and I were wandering around aimlessly taking in all of the great sights one sees in the eternal city. We were doing one of those night walks and discovering the city spontaneously without a map. We had eaten near the Spanish Steps, seen the Trevi Fountain at night and had just walked through Piazza Navona when we suddenly found ourselves smack bang in Campo dei Fiori and were immediately met with the hustle and bustle of people having a great night out. There were a couple of buskers creating atmosphere with their live jazz quartet and all of the square’s restaurants had tables right out on to the pavement and people were vying for these seats. Our walk took us down a narrow street where there were mainly clothing stores and up ahead we noticed some bright lights and locals casually standing there excitedly speaking Italian whilst drinking wine and having a smoke. Walking past, we glanced behind the Italians and I instantly had the understanding that this was a top restaurant. I didn’t need to read any good food guide or speak Italian to know that this was a local’s favourite and not a tourist trap that only served bolognese and lasagne. Through their glass window I could see walls of wine, numerous salami rolls hanging from the ceiling and stacks of cheese in a chilled display. It wasn’t packed, but was busy enough and I knew I needed to come back to this place before I left Rome despite feeling incredibly full after my recent dinner.

Two nights later we came back to Roscioli. I discovered that the wall of wine was not just at the front but all through the restaurant on both sides and even lining the stairs down to the private room below. Our table was right near the cheese fridge and I remember looking at all of the different varieties of mozzarella, gorgonzola and pecorino (just to name a few). I watched the chef prepare someone’s meal and hold every piece of buffalo mozzarella like it was a precious gem before carefully cutting it and arranging it delicately on the plate. Our waiter came to us and was instantly amused that we didn’t speak a word of Italian yet managed to brief us on all of the day’s specials and take us knowledgeably through the menu. My man and I decided to create a degustation for ourselves so we could experience and eat as much off the menu in one sitting. By 8pm, Roscioli was packed with other people eating their way through the extensive menu and I could feel a similar electric atmosphere as I would do in A Tavola in Darlinghurst, Sydney or at Cafe Sopra in Waterloo, Sydney. Every plate we ate off was delicious, delectable, mouth-watering and encompassed a million taste sensations. The produce was fresh and of optimum quality and the wines we drank matched the flavours completely.

We left Roscioli that night feeling a sense of complete satisfaction and for many nights after we raved about the restaurant, thinking back to how thin and delicious the carpaccio was and how decadent the chocolate fondant was… I know when I go back to Rome next time that this place is top of my list to return to, just so I can make my way through more of the menu!

Via dei Giubbonari, 21. 00186 Rome

Published in: on April 4, 2010 at 1:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Up The Faraway Tree

When I think back to what my dreams were made of as a little girl I remember fairies and princesses, pink wands and fairy floss. I remember having a wild imagination and loving Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and wondering what I would see if I fell down a rabbit hole. I remember loving Enid Blyton’s story books, namely the series about The Faraway Tree. I must have read and re-read the stories at least 30 times and never stopped dreaming about what could be… I remember thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up and I remember doing all of those primary school games and calculations to find out who I was going to marry. Like a lot of little girls, I dreamt of the white wedding and wondered when I would meet my Prince Charming?

7 days out from my wedding day and I am thinking back to when I used to go past this store whilst walking home after school and get a quick glimpse of all of the pretty dresses hanging on the rail inside. This store is Helen Rodrigues, in Neutral Bay, Sydney and my own experience in this store was everything I dreamt of as a little girl. The dresses here are whimsical and princess-like, full skirted and slim-line with bows and lace, ribbons and sequins. I tried on a dress like Carolyn Bessette Kennedy’s (slim and silky) and a dress similar to Kristy Hinze’s (full skirted with lots of detail). Helen has been in this business for over 10 years and with her calm demeanor and exceptional care, I discovered a dress that caters to my dreams today and matches the unique and old-school romance that I share with my man. At Helen Rodrigues, I got to go up the faraway tree and find myself in a place where dreams are allowed to soar and girls can be the little girls they used to be twirling around in front of the mirror.

Published in: on April 2, 2010 at 11:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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When in Paris, people watch from here

Observations of local Parisiens generally amount to descriptions such as stylish, elegant, effortless, artistic, dog-lovers…the list does go on and there are many places to people watch throughout Paris to reach these common conclusions. Watch the romantics in Les Jardin des Tuilleries, watch the thoughtful and pensive as they mull around Rodin’s The Thinker, watch the sun lovers bask on the banks of the Seine, watch the modern day gypsy-like artisans at Montmartre. I discovered one more place to people watch on my last trip to the city of lights and the people I watched here were the locals scurrying or strolling past self-absorbed and oblivious to their own beauty. At the end of the Pont Louis Phillippe bridge – Marais side is a chic French bistro called Chez Julien. It was on recommendation that I came to this place. What I didn’t know at the time was how much I would fall in love with one destination on such a short stay.

Chez Julien is located directly opposite the bridge and its tables spill outside where diners can be watched and in turn watch their surrounds. The waiters who come to serve me sparkling water look like they have just stepped of a Paris catwalk and blend right into this picturesque scene. The tan shoulder bags that they wear across their bodies are not just fashion accessories but a means to hold euros that they collect off satisfied patrons. The food is mouth-watering. The chicken dish I order is filled with terrific yet simple flavours and it epitomises French cooking in one go by showcasing that it does not take a raft of ingredients to make a spectacular meal. I sit here for the rest of the afternoon and digest every detail. The next day, I come back with two hours to spare before flying out, feeling like a local who frequents this bistro daily yet laughing at myself because I am a tourist who should be experiencing something new while I am only here for three days.

When in Paris, people watch from here and eat nothing but copious amounts of divine French goodness.

1 Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, 75004 Paris, France‎ – 01 42 78 31 64‎

Published in: on April 2, 2010 at 6:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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Move over Betty Crocker. Barefoot Contessa has arrived in pink lady style!

I admit I am a bit of a snob when it comes to packet mix cakes, pancake shakes or any sauces for that matter that come in a jar. Hmmm…sure, they market themselves as easy, two minute, no-fuss jobs but I have always been a fan of making things from scratch. Back in high school I remember I cooked a Betty Crocker chocolate fudge brownie in the microwave and was underwhelmed by the cardboard taste and far too sweet taste.

But it was in Alfresco a couple of months ago when the tide turned and I picked up a blue striped box entitled Barefoot Contessa Coconut Cupcakes. Turning the box over I was confronted with foreign measurements of ingredients like ounces and sticks but nonetheless threw my hat in the ring again to try to make something else again from a box.

So it was last night, after having purchased my extra ingredients of cream cheese, eggs and butter that I set myself to the task. Spurred on by Go Pink for a Day (an initiative at work to raise money for a colleague who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year), the only ingredient I added to the mix not prescribed by Barefoot Contessa was some pink food colouring as my end product needed to get into the spirit of things! The whole process was extremely easy so the packet mix certainly lived up to initial expectations. The mixture came together extremely well with three steps in total and tastes along the way made not only my nose twitch with glee but also my man’s.

As I took my end product into work today; decorated with hot pink icing, shredded coconut flakes and a raspberry jube, my colleagues were amazed and oohed and aahed at all the right moments and my little “pink ladies” raised over $50. The next time I go to Alfresco, I am going to stock up on more striped boxes – it’s the outrageous brownie which is calling me next. And despite this new change in me I am afraid I will continue to be a snob, but only to the likes of Betty Crocker.

Published in: on April 1, 2010 at 7:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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